The McHenry Train Crash of 1908

On March 30, 1908 one of the worst train wrecks took place here in McHenry. Around 8:30 am a train loaded with 24 head of cattle and six calves were headed to Ringwood from Crystal Lake. Just south of the McHenry train depot there was a slight curve. The train hit the curve too quickly and flew off the tracks. It proceeded to crash through the wooden platform leading to the train depot, smashing it to pieces. The train finally came to a stop just before the depot itself, with the depot not suffering any major damage. The tender (the car carrying the train’s coal) and the engine stopped almost side-by-side.

train crash where now is the Train Depot Restaurant
Picture of the crash site, note the locomotive to the left and the tender is behind the people. The building in towards the middle of picture is the train depot. Picture compliments of the McHenry Public Library collection.

The train’s engineer, A. Jewell from Chicago, seeing that the accident was unavoidable, jumped out of the locomotive’s window. He avoided what would have been almost certain death and only suffered minor bruises and cuts. The conductor and S. W. Smith, the owner of the cattle, were also able to jump to safety. Sadly the train’s fireman wasn’t so lucky. Ernest Auler was inside the cab and didn’t have time to leap to safety. Later inquests would determine that he was killed by scalding hot water and steam from the locomotive. Mr. Auler was well-liked, a member of the Platt Deutsche Guild, and originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After the inquest, his body was sent back home to a wonderful service at his mother’s home. Oddly enough, in regards to the cattle, despite being thrown around in the wreck, only one calf was killed and the rest were unharmed. The cattle were then loaded up and finished their journey up to Ringwood.

Sanborn 1908 Crash Map
Sanborn map from 1898 showing area where the accident took place.

The cleanup of the wreck didn’t take long. The accident occurred at 8:30 am and by was cleared out by 7:00 pm. A track just east of the accident allowed for rail traffic to flow rather unencumbered while the wreckage was moved. Many photographers were on-hand to collect pictures of the accident. Looking at the wreck, it’s a wonder that only one life was lost. What was even more impressive was how the city was able to clear everything out of the way and go about its business the very same day.

“Fireman Dead In Wreck.” McHenry Plaindealer 2 Apr. 1908: 1. Web. 12 Aug 2016.
“Funeral For A. Euler.” McHenry Plaindealer 9 Apr. 1908: 5. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.

Sanborn Map Company. McHenry, McHenry County, Illinois : July 1898 Scale [ca. 1:1,200]. 100 ft. = 1 in.; Scale [ca. 1:6,000]. 500 ft. = 1 in. “Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps” (Accessed: August 16, 2016).
Everts, Baskin and Stewart.  McHenry Township: 1908, McHenry County, IL  [map].1908. Scale undetermined; using “Historic Map Works by Proquest”.